Retirement Services for Federal Employees Back to Customer Experience Profiles Office of Personnel Management Executive Summary Data Highlights Customer Experience Insights Delivering Services Equitably Leading Customer Experience Practices The Office of Personnel Management administers the Civil Service Retirement System and Federal Employees Retirement System—benefits that those who have dedicated some or all of their careers to public service are entitled to. Many federal employees, retirees and their families rely on the annuities and other benefits that OPM provides for financial security in their retirement. Customers engage with OPM at a variety of stages before and after their retirement, including asking questions or finding information to help them plan for retirement, submitting an application, and managing their benefits. As part of their transition to retirement, OPM works to quickly provide many customers with interim pay, based on estimates of what their benefits will be, to reduce uncertainty in the first few months of retirement while their exact benefits are being determined. The agency has also recently made it easier to connect with OPM and has introduced practices to more quickly answer customer questions. However, many common tasks—including applying for retirement—are not currently available online and are paper intensive, and the time it takes for OPM to process retirement claims is often longer than customers would like. Service Overview OPM Retirement Services is responsible for administering the retirement programs and benefits available to federal employees. OPM works in conjunction with federal agency human resources offices to process employees’ retirement paperwork. Once a federal employee becomes a retiree, OPM is responsible for their human resource needs, such as annuity payments and health and life insurance benefits. As of fiscal year 2020, OPM served an annuitant population of 2.7 million. Primary customers Retiring federal employees, those receiving retirement benefits and their families. Key services provided to customers Answers to questions about federal retirement policies and benefits. Retirement application processing and adjudication. Delivery of retirement annuity payments. Management of federal benefits—such as health and life insurance—after retirement. Service Snapshot (all data for fiscal year 2020) 1.53 million retirement-related phone calls received.1 Average wait time for calls: 6.3 minutes.2 91,927 retirement claims processed.3 Average processing time: 69 days.4 About 600,000 unique users of OPM’s Services Online accounts. Data Highlights more calls handled in fiscal year 2020 than fiscal year 2019. average processing time for retirement claims in fiscal year 2020, compared to OPM’s goal of 60 days. Customer Experience Insights Improvement from last year Room for improvement Contact Center improvements are enabling more customers to speak with OPM representatives, but some customers continue to experience difficulties. OPM’s customer research in 2019 showed that many people were encountering busy signals when calling the contact center and were unable to speak with a representative. To address this problem, OPM initiated a series of improvements to increase access to the contact center. The agency analyzed information on the most common types of calls and reconfigured the initial messaging customers hear when they call. This new, streamlined messaging allows customers to indicate their purpose earlier in the call, routing them into the correct queue more quickly and enabling OPM to answer more calls and resolve customers’ questions more quickly. The agency also created a new online form for customers to submit questions, which are then sent directly to the contact center to be answered via email. This provides customers with an additional way to access needed OPM information without having to call. The agency has also reorganized and clarified the information available on its website to enable customers to find answers to their questions without needing to contact OPM. With these initiatives, OPM significantly increased access for customers and handled approximately 80,000 more calls in fiscal year 2020 than in fiscal year 2019. However, technological and staffing limitations meant that some customers continued to experience busy signals in fiscal year 2021. To address these limitations, OPM hired additional contact center representatives and in September 2021 implemented a new cloud-based, multi-channel contact center platform. So far, this platform has almost eliminated busy signals and has also enabled the agency to offer customers the additional choice of a call-back feature, which has been popular, with approximately 50% of customers using this option. Customers cannot access detailed updates on the status of their case, but OPM’s interim annuity payments help reduce uncertainty for customers waiting for final adjudication. In their online accounts, customers can see a rudimentary tracker that offers limited information about where their retirement application is in the adjudication process. But customers cannot access exact information or receive detailed updates about the progress of their case. This lack of specific, personalized information can create uncertainty for customers as they are do not know when exactly they will begin receiving retirement payments or how much they will receive, limiting their ability to plan ahead. OPM addresses some of this uncertainty by providing, for many customers, interim annuity payments while cases are being processed. This interim pay provides customers with a partial annuity—normally about 85% of their likely entitlement—during the period before final adjudication. Agency officials noted that customers appreciate the financial security that interim pay provides during the processing period, which was an average of about 90 days long in August 2021, and that it limits some of the anxiety customers might otherwise feel while waiting for updates or final decisions on their case. Processing times generally meet OPM’s published standards but are longer than customer expectations. OPM seeks to process and adjudicate retirement applications within 60 days, a goal the agency largely met before the pandemic, with an average processing time of 58 days in January 2020. However, the shift to telework during the pandemic limited OPM’s ability to process paper-based claims and extended processing times, with the monthly average processing time reaching 95 days in July 2020.5 Although processing times shortened during the spring of 2021—the average processing time was 69 days in March 2021—they began climbing again later in the year, reaching a monthly average of 93 days in August 2021. However, even when the agency meets its 60-day goal, agency officials noted that customers expect shorter processing times. OPM is working with agencies to improve the quality of retirement submissions to enable smoother and quicker processing and is also hiring additional adjudicators to increase the staff available to process applications. Customers cannot file for retirement or complete certain other transactions online. Several of OPM’s retirement services—including filing for retirement—are not currently available to complete online. Some transactions are governed by regulations or laws that require original documents or written requests to be submitted, which prevent OPM from making these services available online. The agency is currently working on developing an online retirement application and internally testing a prototype before piloting it with one or two agencies. OPM is also hoping to invest in a case management system that would help facilitate electronic filing and is exploring avenues to fund this tool. Expanding the services available online is particularly important given the high demand for phone assistance from OPM—enabling customers to access more tasks and information online could reduce the need for customers to call the agency. Delivering Federal Retirement Services Equitably OPM has been a long-time advocate for financial education of federal employees, including the need for retirement savings and investment. OPM recognizes the primary responsibility of employing agencies in delivering retirement financial education to their employees, while OPM’s role is to lead and serve as a “capacity builder, a coordinator, and a catalyst for action.”6 The agency runs a program called “Retirement Readiness: NOW” that encourages employees to plan for the future during their government service rather than postpone it until they are close to retirement. Extensive financial literacy resources are available on the OPM Retirement website. OPM’s Retirement Information Center handles calls and emails in English and Spanish, and written correspondence is supported in multiple other languages. The information on supported languages, however, is not yet noted on the service’s contact page. OPM is conscious of the fact that some of the retirement services’ customers do not have internet access, which is why continuing to improve phone access is important. Leading Customer Experience Practices The Partnership and Accenture developed the following list of practices to understand how agencies prioritize the customer experience, and steps they can take to improve. The list is based on research about effective customer experience practices in both government and the private sector, and aligns with practices in a customer experience maturity self-assessment for agencies developed by the Office of Management and Budget. Organizational Commitment Organizational Commitment A strong commitment and plan from agency leaders to prioritize customer experience is essential for sustained progress. The agency: 1. Includes high-quality customer experience in its strategic goals. Yes OPM’s strategic plan includes a goal related to improving retirement services. 2. Specifies customer feedback as a key measure of the organization’s performance. No While the agency’s strategic plan includes performance measures related to service delivery, it does not include any measures based on customer feedback. 3. Has a senior executive with the responsibility and authority to lead efforts to improve the customer experience across the organization. No Ease of Customer Interactions Ease of Customer Interactions Interactions with the federal government should be easy, transparent and designed around user needs. For the most common services provided, customers can: 1. Complete common transactions using the service delivery channel of their choice. Partially Customers cannot apply for retirement online or over the phone. However, many common post-adjudication transactions, such as updating banking information or a mailing address, are available online, via email, over the phone, or in-person at the agency’s Retirement Information Walk-in Center. The agency’s website also adjusts for mobile devices and is frequently used this way by customers. 2. Obtain status updates through online self-service. Partially Using their OPM accounts, customers can get some information on the status of their retirement application and interim retirement payments. 3. Receive a response to feedback or answers to questions over social media. N/A OPM does not have dedicated social media accounts for Retirement Services and does not receive many questions on these services via social media. 4. Access online information and support in languages other than English. No Retirement Services pages on OPM’s website are available only in English. However, contact center services over the phone and email are available in Spanish. Listening to Customers and Acting on Feedback Listening to Customers and Acting on Feedback To understand and prioritize customer needs, agencies should collect, publish, analyze and act on feedback. The agency: 1. Collects meaningful customer experience data across interactions and service delivery channels and shares it with the public. Yes OPM collects and publicly shares customer experience data for its online retirement services, in line with OMB guidance. 2. Collects and analyzes first-hand customer feedback to understand customers’ experiences, based on their own words. Yes OPM’s online survey allows customers to provide feedback in their own words. 3. Aggregates and analyzes customer feedback across channels and programs, and shares feedback with relevant staff members so they can act on it. Partially OPM is in the process of implementing this practice as part of its new strategic plan. Back to Customer Experience Profiles Footnotes and Methodology Footnotes OPM Annual Performance Report, Fiscal Year 2020. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/3pIRfxY. Ibid. OPM Retirement Claims Monthly Processing Statistics. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/3CfIyOZ. Ibid. Ibid. OPM, “Retirement Financial Literacy and Education Strategy.” Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2Zrksml. Customer experience indicators methodology The Partnership and Accenture developed the following list of practices to understand how agencies prioritize the customer experience, and steps they can take to improve. The list is based on research about effective customer experience practices in government and the private sector, and aligns with practices in a customer experience maturity self-assessment for agencies developed by the Office of Management and Budget. Organizational Commitment A strong commitment and plan from agency leaders to prioritize customer experience is essential for sustained progress. The agency: Includes high-quality customer experience in its strategic goals. Criteria: a) customer experience with the agency’s services is listed in the strategic plan as one of the organization’s top priorities, or a supporting goal of one of the priorities b) the strategic plan provides specific actions the agency will take to improve customer experience Specifies customer feedback as a key measure of the organization’s performance. Criteria: There is a performance measure included in the agency’s strategic plan, annual performance report or agency priority goals that is based on feedback directly from customers. Has a senior executive with the responsibility and authority to lead efforts to improve the customer experience across the organization. Criteria: Based on a review of the agency’s organizational chart and online descriptions of leadership positions, the agency has an executive who meets the following criteria: a) customer experience is that executive’s primary responsibility b) the executive reports to the head of the organization or a deputy c) the executive’s work spans all major service delivery channels (e.g., online services, contact centers, face-to-face services). Ease of Customer Interactions Interactions with the federal government should be easy, transparent and designed around user needs. For the most common services provided, customers can: Complete common transactions using the service delivery channel of their choice. Criteria: Based on a review of the agency’s website, customers have multiple options to complete common transactions including going online, calling, using webchat and visiting field offices or other physical locations. Obtain status updates through online self-service. Criteria: customers can get real-time updates through an online self-service channel that provides estimated timelines. Receive a response to feedback or answers to questions over social media. Criteria: Does the agency respond to questions through the direct message feature on Facebook and Twitter, or in the comment section of posts? To assess this, we examined social media posts on the service’s primary account across a three-month period. “No” indicates the agency never or rarely responds to comments; “partially” indicates the agency responds sometimes, but not consistently; and “yes” indicates the agency responds to comments on a frequent and consistent basis. Access online information and support in languages other than English. Criteria: “No” indicates content is available only in English and translation features are not available on the website; “partially” indicates that some content or services are available in English and Spanish; “yes” indicates that content or services are available in English and Spanish and additional languages. Listening to Customers and Acting on Feedback To understand and prioritize customer needs, agencies should collect, publish, analyze and act on feedback. The agency: Collects meaningful customer experience data across interactions and service delivery channels and shares it with the public. Criteria: In alignment with the Office of Management and Budget’s guidance on customer experience measurement, the agency shares customer feedback with the public and that: a) represents multiple service delivery channels b) provides details into different aspects of the experience (i.e., beyond overall customer satisfaction) Collects and analyzes first-hand customer feedback to understand customers’ experiences, based on their own words. Criteria: In alignment with Office of Management and Budget’s guidance on customer experience measurement, in customer or user research such as interviews, focus groups, surveys and other feedback mechanisms, customers can describe their experiences in their own words, and the agency has automated analytic capabilities to identify and act on insights that emerge from customer feedback data. Aggregates and analyzes customer feedback across channels and programs, and shares feedback with relevant staff members so they can act on it. Criteria: Agency has an automated system to collect feedback across multiple channels and programs into a centralized location, analyze it for insights, and share those insights with relevant agency business owners or other appropriate colleagues responsible for taking action. The agency also tracks the impact of actions taken in response to customer feedback. This customer experience profile was produced in collaboration with Accenture Federal Services.